Apr 30, 2007

Insights from Bill Janeway at Warburg Pincus

Here's an interesting article in Sandhill.com from Bill Janeway at Warburg Pincus. Bill is one of our board members at Cassatt, and he previously led the investment in BEA Systems. The article gives you a 40-year perspective on the Venture Capital community and how it's changed over the years.

Some interesting points on what it takes these days to put together a start-up that is seeking venture capital:
  • Begin with a first-class, seasoned management team
  • Find a market undergoing demand growth where some form of disruption is creating a space for a new business
  • Buy the components of the business – technology, distribution, customer base - that you can; only build what you have to (which usually does include building innovative technology)
Bill also talks about what's required these days to IPO. For those of us at Cassatt, we've heard these same principles from our CEO, Bill Coleman, in various town halls. The article makes for an interesting read. Take a look for yourself.

Apr 29, 2007

Do You Fly Your Own Airplane?

One of the best tests for a software product is using it for your own needs-- in other words, flying your own airplane. By using your product in an internal production environment, you can shake out bugs and reliability issues and make a better product for your paying customers. Running in a real environment helps you find issues that wouldn't turn up in test scenarios.

In Cassatt, we started using Collage to run our IT systems and development build systems in early 2005. We have three development sites, and the IT systems in each site are run on Collage. A common set of application images are developed in San Jose and pushed out to the other sites, which have no local IT staff.

Product builds, however, are the at core of a development organization. If you can't check-in code and build your product, everything comes to a screeching halt. In Product Development, we use Cruise Control (builds), Bit Keeper (source-code management) and Bugzilla (defect tracking). All three applications are managed in a Collage environment. Spencer Smith, one of our developers in Colorado, wears a second hat-- release engineer or buildmeister.

In 2007, we changed our development process in PD so that we now have about a dozen projects proceeding in parallel. Each project requires its own repository and build. The build system was revamped to include a web application that allows project leads to configure new projects and to set up their own build schedules.

This new Unified Build Service (UBS) is a LAMP application that simply runs as an application tier within a Collage environment. This same Collage environment includes other application tiers for the builder nodes, which are part of the CruiseControl system. CruiseControl also runs as another application within this Collage environment. Spen just finished UBS last week, and now all project builds have transitioned to UBS. So, Collage is built using Collage. Pretty neat, huh?

Apr 18, 2007

Out of Capacity on Tax Day

Like many tax payers, I waited until the last weekend to finish my taxes, but I filed one day early, on April 16. I used Intuit's Turbo Tax, but I still filed the old-fashioned way-- by mail. As it turns out, many procrastinators filing electronically on April 17 were in for a nasty surprise. Intuit ran out of server capacity, and many people's returns could not be processed in time. Luckily, the IRS extended the deadline to April 19 for folks who had trouble filing electronically. Read the details in today's Mercury News.

Some highlights:
  • Intuit processed more than 1 million transactions on April 17. This was double the number of electronic filings from the previous year.
  • Once the system reached capacity, many filers were simply turned away.
I bet Intuit had other servers sitting idle, dedicated to other applications while their tax-processing servers were maxed out. Unfortunately, there was no way to tap into that excess capacity. These types of workload spikes happen in many industries, and sometimes the traffic patterns are very predictable-- news properties during the week, music and sports properties during the weekend.

What if you could shift capacity around your data center as the demand is needed? What if you could tap into those lower-priority applications and harvest the capacity to higher-priority applications? How much would that be worth to your business' top-line revenue?

Apr 11, 2007

How to Optimize Power Consumption of Your Data Center

There's a lot of talk these days about "green data centers" and reducing power consumption. Cassatt Collage has several features that can be used to optimize the power consumption of your data center.

Collage dynamically allocates servers to applications as they are needed. So, if you have a farm of web servers, you can allocate capacity as demand increases rather than provisioning all the servers at once. Servers that are unused remain in a free pool, and Collage powers them off. (Check out an older post for more details.)

Collage includes a pretty powerful rules engine, sometimes called the brain, and sometimes called Jerry's brain (named after its inventor). The rules engine allocates servers using a least-cost algorithm so that servers are optimally allocated based on application needs. For example, you might have a database tier that need dual-CPU, 4 GB servers, and an Apache tier that can use any old server. Collage will allocate your heavy-duty servers to the database tier and the lightweight servers to the Apache tier.

Using the Collage rules engine and power management technologies, you can have servers allocated based on their power consumption. For example, virtual machines could be allocated first-- since they don't require additional power-- followed by 1-U servers, then 2-U servers and then finally those power-hungry 4-U servers. For each class of server, you simply add additional attributes to the hardware inventory maintained by Collage. Add one attribute for your 1-U servers, two attributes for your 2-U servers and four attributes for your 4-U servers.

When servers are allocated to an application tier, Collage will automatically allocate the most power-efficient server that is available. And when that application no longer requires the same service capacity, extra servers are automatically returned to the free pool and powered off. Voila! Your data center now optimizes its own power consumption based on application needs. Pretty cool, huh?

Apr 8, 2007

Interesting Silicon Valley News

Today's Mercury News has two interesting articles about the tech rebound that has been occurring in Silicon Valley. The headline, "The Tech Rebound," talks about the rebound of the economy in Silicon Valley after the painful dot-com bust. Some interesting stats for the % change from 2005 to 2006:
  • Household income is up 6.2%, compared to a nationwide average of 4.9%.
  • 50,000 new jobs were created in the past two years-- not quite the 200,000 jobs lost in the dot-com crash. Employment is still up 2.9% (1.8% nationwide).
  • Home prices are up 4% (1.4% nationwide). The median home price in Santa Clara County rose to $749,000.
  • Auto sales are up 2.6%, whereas they're down 2.6% nationwide.
We locals use the traffic on the major freeways as a gut-check for the economy. The good news is that traffic has increased, which means the economy has definitely picked up!

Another article talks about Google's impending brain-drain as their earliest employees approach the fourth year of vesting for their pre-IPO stock. Now that's a nice problem to have as an employee!

Check out both articles in the Merc for an interesting read!

Apr 6, 2007

Avez-Vous Un Blog?

A few weeks ago, Alan McClellan had set up a Google analytics profile for my blog. (Thanks, Alan!) Recently, I hit a personal milestone with my blog. I now have readers from every continent, which is pretty cool. So, welcome to my new international audience. I'll try to keep this space current and informative. Maybe I'll be brave and try to set up automatic translation of my blog (traduction en francais). Yes, I did live in Paris for three years during an international assignment, and I did love the experience.